Cigar Pairings 101: How to Mix Fine Cigars and Drinks

Like many other luxury items, cigars work just fine as a standalone treat. Their big, bold flavors are satisfying enough to sustain long conversations, important business meetings, or the slow-paced, respectable silence between old friends.

But, like other luxury items, cigars also take particularly well to pairing – and can reveal new depths of flavors when mixed with beverages. Think of how a shaving of black truffles changes its profile slightly when paired with an earthy gamay, or how a Parisian croissant plays off a punchy espresso.

Pairing cigars with drinks is an age-old practice. And in this article, we discuss the fundamentals. Here’s an introduction to cigar flavors, typical and atypical pairings, and how to create your own perfect combo.

An Introduction to Cigar Flavors

Cigar flavors vary by producer, region and color.

Like wine, cigar tobacco is influenced by its terroir, the surrounding soil and environment, which imparts nuances and signatures. Further, cigar curing, drying and aging plays a critical role in the end product’s flavor profile – with longer cures imparting deeper, “roastier” flavors.

It might surprise some readers to know that a cigar gets a significant amount of its flavor from the wrapper. Despite comprising a small amount of the overall product, the outer leaf packs a formidable punch. Darker colored leaves (like oscuros) can have peppery, chocolatey or coffee-like notes. Meanwhile, light leaves like claros feature a decidedly “greener” profile with hints of tea or grass.

Whatever type you reach for, it’s important to preserve the flavors of your cigars with a humidor and Boveda pack. Overly dry cigars lose their flavor nuances quickly.

Typical (and Atypical) Drink Pairings for Cigars

People have been smoking cigars for centuries. As such, a whole culture has sprung up around the practice, including conventional drink pairings. Here are the “orthodox” choices for cigar pairing:

  • Whiskeys: Scotch is the preferred whisky among many old-school aficionados, but others enjoy rye, Bourbon and Irish whiskey too. There’s an art to combining brown liquors and cigars, which you can read more about here.
  • Red Wine: Red wines and cigars are a classic combo, especially at dinners or other food-focused events.
  • Cognac: Cognac is something of a status symbol, meaning that it often rears its head in formal parties when cigars are passed around.
  • Coffee: A cigar before noon often calls for a coffee pairing.

These are conventional pairings, but they aren’t the only pairings. Recently, modern cigar lovers have experimented with other drinks like:

  • Beer: Craft beer especially is a popular pairing. Its bitter, malty or biscuity characteristics offer a fine counterpoint to a range of cigar flavors.
  • Rum: Some people abide by the old saying, “if it grows together, it goes together.” Since rum and cigars often trace their provenance to the Caribbean (Cuba, specifically), it makes sense to pair them.
  • Tea: Tea-like flavors are already present in several cigars, so a black tea pairing tends to make sense.

A Foolproof Way to Pair Cigars and Beverages

When pairing cigars and drinks, consider three things: occasion, cigar flavor and personal taste. The occasion will help you rule out certain beverages; for instance, you aren’t serving a coffee at a midnight bachelor party, nor are you sipping rum at 8 in the morning. Next, think of complementary flavors for your particular cigar; if your cigar is earthy or sweet, pair it with a rich Scotch; if it’s light and vegetal, experiment with a crisp IPA.

Finally, don’t discount personal taste. At the end of the day, if the pairing tastes good to you, then it tastes good period. Be open to experimentation, and let your palate guide you as you figure out your favorite flavor combinations.